Zambia’s new president, Michael Sata, continues to set a new course for leadership among high elected officials in Africa. Last month he declared he would avoid foreign trips because he did not want to waste the country’s resources on extravagances when the funds could be better used to assist poor Zambians. Now the Africa Works correspondent in Lusaka, Chanda Chisala, explains that even when Sata does travel within the region — he went to Uganda in mid-December to hand over leadership of a sub-regional grouping to Uganda’s president Yoweri Museveni — Sata is doing so in an unusual manner. Writes Chisala:
“Yeah he had to make an exception because it was a regional meeting and he was handing over chairmanship of it to someone else or something like that. The other presidents used to travel just to “visit” another country, or to “learn” how they manage their countries — and they paid themselves thousands of dollars on each such trip. Recently he had to meet Mugabe in Livingstone, which is our tourist city near Zimbabwe; he was hosted at an expensive hotel there, where they met with Mugabe, and Sata insisted that he would pay the hotel bill from his own pocket instead of government coffers — maybe the first time that has happened in humanity’s history? The guy is certainly an interesting kind of populist!”
Interesting indeed. African presidents continue to display a preference for pomp and ceremony over practical action. Sata suggests an alternative approach — and is backing up his rhetoric with action. On a recent trip to the historic Zambian city of Livingstone, near the border with neighboring Zimbabwe, Sata traveled by public bus to a meeting with president Robert Mugabe — and then afterwards, even more improbably, settled his own hotel bill.
Sata is a work in progress — and hopes for his presidency must be tempered by an awareness — highlighted by Chris Blattman, the Yale thinker on development, in his insightful blog — that Africa enthusiasts have been “disappointed” by promising African leaders before. But in fairness, promising American political leaders — even those with African roots — have disappointed also.
Perhaps, in these difficult times, all over the world, we are condemned to endure in the gap between drift and leadership.